Global tourism, being one of the world’s most important and fastest growing economic sectors, took a hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the United Nations, the industry suffered a 65% loss in international tourist numbers during the first half of 2020.
In an effort to compensate for these losses, many hotels and tourist destinations in the Middle East and North Africa are appealing to domestic residents, or so-called ‘staycationers’.
In the UAE, according to a Dnata Travel survey, 91 percent of respondents wanted to “experience more of the UAE”, this year and next.
In Abu Dhabi, Al Hudayriat Island, is a newly-developed commercial and entertainment location, targeting homegrown tourists whilst many global travel restrictions remain in place.
“Due to the demand that we have seen for the staycations and the activities, Al Hudayriat is providing different sporting facilities and adventurous activities,” said Ahmed Al Zaabi, the associate delivery director at Modon Properties.
In the near future, the waterfront community’s activities & facilities will include camping, cycling tracks, an ice rink and a waterpark.
Embracing athleticism during the pandemic, and in the UAE’s cooler months, is a man dubbed the, ‘First Emirati international competitive surfer’, Mohammad Rahma.
“In the United Arab Emirates, surfing is seasonal. So, only in the winter time, from November all the way to March,” The 33-year-old told Inspire Middle East’s Salim Essaid. “Otherwise, we just go behind the boats, we go wake surfing or we go to the cable park.”
Rahma performs some of these activities at Abu Dhabi’s Al Forsan International Sports Resort, known for its Olympic standard equestrian facilities, motorsports & water activities.
To encourage UAE residents to consider an active lifestyle during the pandemic, the adrenaline seeker is undertaking a 'Thirty Sports in Thirty Days” challenge.
So far, he has already covered a myriad of activities including horse-riding, go-karting, wakeboarding and clay-pigeon shooting.
“I don’t like to go to the gym, I don’t like to run, but I like to play sports,” explained Rahma.
During his short life so far, the athlete has suffered multiple sporting injuries and undergone about 12 surgeries.
This year, Rahma also overcame colon cancer, which he says was no excuse to be idle.
“What you can do is go out. Meet new friends. Join a community and play sports,” he told Euronews.
The UAE’s warm weather and waters have attracted a record number of domestic holiday-goers, according to Al Forsan Holdings’ CEO, Sultan Al Kaabi.
As a result, he says, on-location hotels and villas have extended their summer staycation packages until the end of the year.
“We have noticed an increase of over 40% in visitors, compared to 2019,” he said. “We will be adding more activities starting from next year.”
These offerings will include more family-oriented pursuits according to the executive.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: SPLASH
Brazilian Priscila splashed out at Abu Dhabi's Yas Water World.